In a daring experiment, the very elite Connecticut University, Wesleyan University, has created a fledging, privately funded college prison education program held at the high-security Chesire Correctional Institution located in Connecticut.
One of the reasons that The Center for Prison Education program is unique among other inmate programs, is the rigorous application process. Only fifteen to nineteen students are selected at a time from both Chesire and McDougal Prisons. All selected students are transferred to Chesire Prison where they are then enrolled in accredited college courses taught by Weslyan University faculty members.
Another reason this college prison education program is different from other existing programs, is the CPE (The Center for Prison Education) offers a diverse curriculum of Wesleyan courses in the humanities, and natural and social sciences, which can range from sociology and English to chemistry and psychology. According to Cathy Lechowicz, director of community service and volunteerism and advisor to the CPE program, “the courses will be as rigorous as the courses that are taught on Wesleyan’s regular campus.”
The Center for Prison Education –offers a high-caliber liberal arts education inside prison walls.
The types of courses offered and taught tend more to the academic level of education as opposed to the more traditional vocational training currently taught in prison education programs.
The inmate-students that are accepted into the program will take two courses each semester for a total of four semesters, earning up to eight credits. The courses are not long enough for the inmate-students to earn a full-fledged degree, however they will finish the courses with full Wesleyan credits. When the prisoner is released, they will be able to use the earned and elite complete transcripts towards another college.
Many upperclassmen students who attend the main campus of Wesleyan campus, serve as writing tutors and teaching assistants. Many of these students have the opportunity to work closely with incarcerated prisoners through college-prep and academic workshops. Current and past professors consist of professors of professional writing, mathematics, language and literature along with other liberal arts programs.
The future of The Center for Prison Education and Wesleyan University looks bright and optimistic. In the Spring of 2011, the program went through an extensive assessment and reapproval process. The Wesleyan faculty judged the caliber of the CPE’s academic program to be consistent with the standards and excellence upheld on the Wesleyan’s main campus.
The CPE plans to extend the program to enlist 20 students per year and is looking to create an additional college campus at York Prison for women in 2012. In the future, The Center for Prison Education-Wesleyan University is leading a larger effort to reinstate post-secondary education throughout the entire Connecticut prison system. Currently, the CPE is receiving donations for a new computer lab at Chesire prison.
By fostering innovative and collaborative learning, the CPE offers a dynamic approach to reduce rates of reincarceration and democratize access to educational opportunity. The CPE is a member of the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison at Bard College. The CPE is a privately funded initiative that relies on the generosity of its supporters.